I once was involved in a committed
romantic relationship with 1980s-era
heavy metal / hard rock. I was in my
twenties and it was all that I lived for.
Yet despite recognizing in later years,
the inane, utter dumbness of much of
the music that I formerly worshiped, I
do still engage in the guilty pleasure
of occasionally perusing various
related websites. How else is a
fifty-year-old guy in today's "gaga"
world gonna remain connected to
breaking news regarding the likes of
it was on one of these sites where I
recently made the discovery of the year.
Seeming to draw inspiration from Motörhead's 1981 No Sleep ’til Hammersmith record, the online ad for author Brent Jensen's 2012 debut, No Sleep 'til Sudbury, literally jumped off the computer screen and demanded my attention. And after checking out a few impressive Amazon reviews, I immediately ordered my own copy.
Simply put, Brent Jensen is a walking, talking, human Wikipedia-like source for all things metal. And he exceeded my expectations, delivering a fascinating read, chronicling his lifelong obsession with heavy metal music. Surprisingly, however, NSTS has much more to offer readers than regurgitated factoids, obscure band references (Icon, Oz and TKO) and ad nauseam commentary regarding the genius of the likes of Accept, Metallica and Queensryche.
Jensen is a true wordsmith and a master storyteller. He's passionate and articulate and tells his tale with candor and wit — coming off as knowledgeable and quite likable. In fact, I felt as if Jensen was a long-lost pal with whom I would have spent countless hours back in the day, hanging out in record stores, going to concerts and swapping bootleg tapes. And he's a flippin' funny guy who doesn't mince words. He refers to Mötley Crüe's 1983 Shout at the Devil album as "a stupid record for stupid young people." He thinks that the Christian glam band Stryper is “gay.” And he compares his 1997 Iron Maiden concert experience to "visiting someone in the hospital."
But Jensen is no one-trick pony. From confessing his love for such vintage TV shows as WKRP in Cincinnati and referencing classic movies, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, to recounting his pre-pube frustration regarding the unavailability of Yummy Mummy breakfast cereal in his small Canadian hometown of Espanola, you don’t have to be a metal aficionado to connect with his many pop culture observations, although it does help.
And therein lies the payoff. The true meat of Jensen's story is — his story. Oh sure, chapter-long analyses of Guns N' Roses and Black Sabbath or an in-depth history of Canadian hard rock/metal including overviews of such Great White North artists as Rush, Anvil, Sebastian Bach and Lee Aaron is certainly intriguing stuff, especially for an old school rocker like myself, but as a reader, I want more. And Jensen delivers in spades.
The countless non-music pop culture references are fun and give additional insight into Jensen's life. In fact, the further he distances himself from his heavy metal theme, the brighter he shines as an author and storyteller. Personal "coming of age" anecdotes of growing up in a small town during the 1970s and '80s — discovering bands, friends, girls and the heartbreak of ultimately moving beyond all of the above make for a truly compelling read. Additional accounts of adult-age all-night binge drinking and drug-induced stupors with the wrong combination of cohorts are equally engaging and often laugh-out-loud funny. Other personal musings, however, are a bit more disturbing. "I drank like a motherfucker in my early twenties," Jensen recounts. "Life just seems so much easier when you’re drunk." But he reassures his readers by offering, "I don’t even drink that much anymore really. I can’t deal with the hangovers anymore." Yes, by the book's end the reader finds the former restless metalhead, Jensen, as a reflective forty-year-old — married, gainfully employed and (seemingly) responsible — but still rockin'!